— Lost in “Referee-gate” and the incredibly entertaining 31-30 loss at Baltimore was this disturbing fact:
Tom Brady choked.
OK, it wasn’t the obvious choke job, where Brady threw it into Ray Lewis’ meat hooks with a guy wide open to end the game. This choke job was both quiet and relative.
We have become accustomed to calling Brady one the greatest quarterbacks that ever lived, or at worst, in the top three or five. With every handful of games, he blows by another legend in either yards thrown, touchdown passes or, more importantly, wins. On Sunday night, he passed Joe Montana for 12th all-time in yards thrown with 40,866.
But do you remember the days when Brady was 50-0 in the snow, 25-0 in domes, 50-0 in prime time and 2,000-0 when his team needed a fourth quarter drive to win a game?
OK, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but you get the message. Brady was “Tom Terrific” in all conditions, particularly when it mattered most in the fourth quarter.
In that sense, yes, our Brady choked.
The New England Patriots needed one more first down and the game was over. That was it, just one. And his young defensive teammates, whom had been manhandled for three quarters, could have left Baltimore feeling better about their physical and mental bruises, learning valuable lessons in the win.
But Brady quietly fell apart. The key play was the sack on second-and-9 from the Ravens’ 44. The stat sheet said Brady was sacked, by the blitzing Dannell Ellerbe. But the real deal was this: Brady was all alone with five receivers.
Ellerbe lined up on the right side, with Brady clearly seeing him, yet he didn’t call for an adjustment (i.e. somebody come back here and block the guy who has nobody in front of him!). Instead he was sacked for a seven-yard loss, basically ending hopes for a game-clinching first down, basically putting the game in his not-ready-for-prime-time defense.
We must note that there were two other “bad” Brady passes/decisions on the last
On the first play of the drive, Brady was supposed to hit running back Stevan Ridley, who was lined up like a receiver wide to the right. Brady threw the ball 100 mph, about five feet in front of Ridley for an incompletion. The second miscue was a rushed pass to the feet of a tightly covered Brandon Lloyd on second-and-9. It was a weird decision and an even weirder pass.
Contrast that with Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, who easily could have thrown four interceptions and should have had thrown at least three if not for the Patriots lack of play-making in the secondary.
Flacco stunk up the joint in the first quarter, which included an interception on his first pass attempt. But then he got progressively better. On that last drive, Flacco looked like a Hall of Famer. He stood in the pocket with no fear of throwing the ball down the field, despite the fact the Ravens needed only a field goal.
He attacked the Patriots secondary on that final drive, completing passes for 24 and 17 yards before going for broke, on third-and-9 with 55 seconds left, and got an interference call on Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty on a 27-yard pass play.
Where did all that moxie come from? Is this really Joe Flacco?
We saw this development before. In fact, in Indianapolis last February. Brady was good, even great, for a large segment of the the Super Bowl against the N.Y. Giants. Ahead, 17-15, the Patriots needed at least one or two more first downs to kill the clock or kick a clinching field goal (sure, Wes Welker’s drop happened on that last drive). Brady and the offense couldn’t finish the job.
Brady had a chance to make a lot of people look good on Sunday, and overcome those high school officiating crews. But he didn’t.
I will reiterate again something that’s been written here several times over the last two seasons, Brady can’t do it alone. He needs help in the play-making department. Like almost all other quarterbacks, Brady needs a running game to complement his passing attack, and he needs a defense that can make plays or, at the very least, pressure the opposing quarterback.
But sometimes, like Sunday night, there are going to be days when it’s on Brady, when he’s going to have to be the Hall of Famer and give the knockout punch. On Sunday night, after playing a great game against a very good team, he broke down mentally and/or physically. Sure, it wasn’t a “classic choke,” but for what we expect from him and what the Patriots need going forward, it is what it is.
And it’s time for Brady to man up, let it fly and go for it.
Bill Burt is a columnist for The Eagle-Tribune in North Andover, Mass. Contact him at email@example.com.